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First days, First Thoughts

It’s 5:48 am. We won’t get started until 9:00, but I cannot sleep for another minute. The rooster we met yesterday won’t have it. He’s been up since five am shouting his desires to the world. I have also spent most of the night shivering from the cold. It’s winter here in the African desert plain, very warm (even hot) during the day, but quite chilly at night. I was only given a small sheet to sleep with, and my sweater was not enough to give me comfort. This was a slight inconvenience; nothing compared to the hard life lived outside the windows of my hotel room. The first night in Tana (Antananarivo) was the coldest. Tana is situated at a high elevation and although it is in central Madagascar, it’s one of the coldest regions of the country. Bear in mind, when I say cold, I mean low fifties at night (after all this is Africa), but there is no such thing as heating or air conditioning here. The few buildings here, such as hotels, are not built with any kind of insulation. As I lay in bed shivering the first night I couldn’t help but think of the majority of Malagasy, hundreds right outside the window of our modest hotel, sleeping in their makeshift huts. How would they keep warm? I saw fires outside the huts for cooking during the day but there is certainly not a possibility for the fires to be taken inside these shelters made of clay and straw.

On our way here to Sakaraha, we stopped in a tiny village of perhaps sixty inhabitants. Patsy and Todd have helped to build a church there; it’s the one small building next to the bush and the huts. It was Sunday, church day, a chance for everyone to gather in community. Todd explained that the people might not go to church because they might be too embarrassed. The church had no roof. It was ripped completely off during the cyclone last March. I was thinking to myself about how pride is an innate human emotion. How could they be embarrassed to have a church with no roof? They are poorer than poor. They have no home, no clothing but for the worn and tattered shreds of shirts or pants or dresses they have acquired and worn every day without washing.

We stopped right in front of the church and stepped out of the four-wheel drive. The children of the village started gathering around excited to see us arrive. One by one the village people came up to us and shook our hands. “Salama”, “Salama”, hello was said over and over again.

I pulled out my IPhone 5 and started taking pictures of the children and showing the pictures to them. They squealed in delight. Julien was watching this all take place and “taking it in”. I explained to him that these children most likely rarely get a chance to see themselves, by that I mean see their own reflection. There are no bathrooms with fixtures, no sinks, no bathtubs or showers, no mirrors to start the routine of a typical day. No combs, no brushes, no perfumes, no soap, or even running water. Nothing. These people have nothing. Well nothing in one sense of the word.

They do however have love and pride.

I thought about love. Love is free, yet just like all the material goods in our life, we often don't give it the attention it deserves. It’s so cliché to explain how some people and societies have chosen material possessions over love. Everyone knows this, but do we stop to think about why? Why do we choose to collect things rather than feelings? Things can be seen, and counted. Feelings cannot. Feelings are also harder to gain and harder to throw away than material possessions. Perhaps that’s why we sometimes choose the possessions instead.

As I sat there in the church with no roof thinking about that, several of the children came over to me. One little girl placed herself on my lap and fell asleep on my shoulder under the now sweltering sun, which was beating down on our heads. I wanted to get up and move to the bench on the other side of the church in order to get out of the sun, but looked around and saw the other Malagasy sitting on benches in front of and behind me. They must be hot too. I would stay there and give Souvenit, Marina, and the other children surrounding me what they most desired, my love.

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